WENATCHEE — Longtime Chelan County District Court Judge Alicia Nakata will succeed retiring Superior Court Judge John Bridges, after a close and drawn-out race with Wenatchee attorney Travis Brandt.
Nakata, 57, earned a final tally of 14,634 votes after the last ballots were counted Tuesday, giving her a 175-vote margin over Brandt’s 14,459.
The last count was carried out shortly before 4 p.m. in the Chelan County Auditor’s office, accounting for the final 25 unread ballots. The 0.6-percent margin gave Brandt the right to seek a recount, but he said Tuesday afternoon he would not.
“I just got back from court, and I congratulated Judge Nakata on her victory, and I wished her well,” Brandt said. “She deserved to win.”
Nakata, an 18-year District Court judge, said she didn’t get off the bench and get a chance to formally check the results until about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“I’m very grateful to all the family and friends in the community that made this possible for me,” she said. “It was really so kind for so many people to help me with the race — and to allow me to use their yard for those signs for so many months.”
Nakata is an East Wenatchee native and Eastmont High School graduate. Her father, the late orchardist Ralph Nakata, imported the Fuji apple variety popularized by Grady Auvil in the 1980s.
Nakata earned her law degree from the University of Texas in 1982, and returned to Washington to work for King County and the city of Seattle as a public defender and city attorney, respectively. She and her husband Stan Bastian returned to the Wenatchee Valley after Bastian won a job with the Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn and Aylward law firm., where he’s managing partner.
She spent five years as chief criminal deputy prosecutor under Chelan County Prosecutor Gary Riesen, then won the District Court judgeship in a four-way race in 1994. In her time as a deputy prosecutor, she handled charges against some defendants in the infamous “Wenatchee sex rings” cases.
Local lawyers were divided on who should succeed Bridges. Fifty out of 124 attorneys answering a Chelan-Douglas Bar Association survey last summer picked Brandt as their first choice for judge, with Nakata earning 36 first-choice rankings. But Nakata went on to a strong finish in the four-way August primary, earning 39 percent of the vote to Brandt’s 27 percent.
The race was tight from Election Night onward, although Nakata held a slim lead throughout. She notched 10,707 votes on the first count Nov. 4, besting Brandt’s figure of 10,221. Subsequent vote tallies narrowed her lead, but never enough to declare a winner.
“It’s hard to be in an election night for three weeks,” Nakata said.
Brandt, 41, said there was not enough uncertainty in the final results to merit a recount.
“In speaking with the folks at the auditor’s office, I don’t think there’s a realistic chance that the numbers would flip,” he said.
Nakata raised $43,000 in the course of her campaign, and spent almost $41,000, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. She contributed $23,000 of her own money to the effort. Brandt’s fundraising levels were nearly the same, with the candidate spending all but $200 of the $42,300 he received and contributing $16,200 from his own pocket.
Bridges, 66, announced his retirement last year, leaving the first Superior Court seat without an incumbent in Chelan County since at least 1952. Appointed when the court expanded from two judges to three in 1989, he’s the longest-serving Superior Court judge in Chelan County’s history.
Superior Court judges hear felony criminal cases, property disputes, civil lawsuits with claims above $50,000, divorces, adoptions, estate claims and mental illness actions. The office carries a $148,832 salary, set by a state commission and unchanged for the last four years.
The four-year judicial term ends Dec. 31. Nakata will take the oath in January; the Superior Court session begins Jan. 14.
“It’s going to be challenge,” Nakata said. “Even though I have the experience as a District Court judge, the responsibilities of the Superior Court are tremendous.”
Chelan County’s board of commissioners now must fill Nakata’s unexpired term on the lower District Court. Nakata and fellow Judge Nancy Harmon handled more than 24,000 misdemeanor, infraction, DUI and civil claims in that court last year. The commissioners put out a request for applicants after the vote was finalized Tuesday, seeking resumés from licensed attorneys.
Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. Dec. 6, with the appointment made by Dec. 31. The appointee would take the bench — with its $141,710 annual salary — no later than Jan. 14, and would hold office through the 2014 general election.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123